Black Women and Wellness: What it Means to Be Well in 2017

 

By Siraad Dirshe, Essence

Five years ago if you were to ask me what the word wellness meant I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you. Fast forward a few years, and the concept has gone from fringe to mainstream, and the catchall phrase for anything remotely related to fitness or health. While I pride myself on living an active life, and setting time to nurture my mind and spirit, so many of the Black women close to me do not; and for good reason.

Black Women in Wellness

The bombardment of oftentimes contradictory messages can leave someone, especially if you’re new to the world of wellness, incredibly confused. Which is why many are tempted to sit on the sidelines of wellness which is extremely problematic, because now more than ever we need to be intentional about caring for ourselves.

In order to help us wrap our head around what it means to be well, and a Black women in wellness, we spoke with with four amazing Black women who share a profound love for wellness; Lauren Ash, founder of Black Girl in OmDr. Tiffany Lester, medical director of Parsley Health San Francisco, Michelle Marques, who’s a certified personal trainer, and reiki master teacher Courtney Cobbs.

When most people hear the word wellness they automatically think of slender and incredibly fit Caucasian women, fresh from a yoga class, sipping a green juice, clad in Lululemon.

“I believe there has been an unfortunate ‘whitewashing’ in wellness and it’s been portrayed to only look a certain way. The irony that these ancient healing traditions often originated in indigenous communities and are now being monetized by individuals who are the opposite,” says Dr. Lester.

This lack of representation and diversity in the wellness space is exactly why Lauren Ash decide to start Black Girl in Om and create the space for Black women to breathe easier.

As her site reads, “we learn and share wellness practices with one another, and through this work cultivate richer understandings of what it means to be healthy and beautiful from the inside out.”

The bombardment of oftentimes contradictory messages can leave someone, especially if you’re new to the world of wellness, incredibly confused. Which is why many are tempted to sit on the sidelines of wellness which is extremely problematic, because now more than ever we need to be intentional about caring for ourselves.

In order to help us wrap our head around what it means to be well, and a Black women in wellness, we spoke with with four amazing Black women who share a profound love for wellness; Lauren Ash, founder of Black Girl in Om, Dr. Tiffany Lester, medical director of Parsley Health San Francisco, Michelle Marques, who’s a certified personal trainer, and reiki master teacher Courtney Cobbs.

When most people hear the word wellness they automatically think of slender and incredibly fit Caucasian women, fresh from a yoga class, sipping a green juice, clad in Lululemon.

“I believe there has been an unfortunate ‘whitewashing’ in wellness and it’s been portrayed to only look a certain way. The irony that these ancient healing traditions often originated in indigenous communities and are now being monetized by individuals who are the opposite,” says Dr. Lester.

This lack of representation and diversity in the wellness space is exactly why Lauren Ash decide to start Black Girl in Om and create the space for Black women to breathe easier.

As her site reads, “we learn and share wellness practices with one another, and through this work cultivate richer understandings of what it means to be healthy and beautiful from the inside out.”

“I believe that’s what living simply asks of us, to surrender the notion that things have to be complicated and to surrender to the basics of our lives and pursuits. It doesn’t rebuke the goal-chasing, it redirects it to align with our inner goals first.” — Chelcee Johns (@chelceecreative), BGIO Editor ▫️▫️▫️ On Sunday, we move with simplicity in mind. Let’s share how we can let go, to invite in what really matters. We’d love to see some new faces at this upcoming BGIO Self-Care Sunday! Click the #linkinbio to register you and a sister friend for another afternoon of yoga, mindfulness, and deep connection with our Chicago community ✨ ▫️▫️▫️ Photo by Deun Ivory (@deunivory)

A post shared by Black Girl In Om (@blackgirlinom) on

 

Courtney Cobbs, who got into the space back in 2014 after a near death experience and breakup, defines wellness as “operating at your most optimum state on all levels-physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and even financial.”

Dr. Lester agrees, “true wellness is being in tune with what you need in every given moment — emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It’s also different for each of us and there is no cookie-cutter approach to wellness.” So green juices and yoga clases are not the only ways to be well.

A few weeks ago, a post from Michelle stopped me cold on Instagram.

Black women are seriously underrepresented in the fitness community but our health issues are very real. About 49% of African American women over age 20 have some form of heart disease. We are also disproportionately affected by diabetes, stroke, and hypertension. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ Unfortunately, studies show we are less likely to be physically active than our white peers. Reasons include: socioeconomic factors, less access to health facilities, and pressure to conform to mainstream beauty ideals (hair/body shape etc). I would love to change that. If you (or someone you know) is trying to get active but doesn’t know where to start, please reach out. ✊

A post shared by Michelle Marques – [märks] (@michellemar.ques) on

 

As Black women we are disportionately affected by chronic diseases like heart disease and stroke and breast cancer yet we are overwhelmingly underrepresented in the wellness communities.

“Who you see standing in the front of you at a yoga studio all of those things matter because what we see is oftentimes what we believe what we can or not do. The lack of representation and diversity can leave us feeling like we don’t belong,” says Lauren.

Financial access is another very real factor why many Black women don’t actively participate in wellness practices.

“Unfortunately the wellness industry isn’t always the most financially accessible community to enter into and that can limit folks’ participation. I am heartened to see more folks of color enter this field and seek to make it more financially accessible,” Michelle explains.

And while both these real, and perceived, costs were once a determent, they no longer are. As each of these women explained to me via email, wellness can take many shapes and forms that are affordable or even free.

Prioritizing sleep, going on short walks, creating a relaxation ritual or even cutting toxic people out of your life are all wellness practices that can be implemented into our lives immediately.

“Consider the activities that give you a sense of inner peace or the feeling, “I can lose myself in this!” Those activities are so important,” Courtney says.

As Black women we must take care of ourselves, and each other, every single day because quite literally our lives, and those of our mothers, sisters and friends, depend on it. So start a weekly walking group with your friends, turn-off your cellphone, or take-up mediation. Whatever you do, do it frequently and know that Black women in wellness do in fact exist.

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